Using Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace Essay

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Emotional Intelligence and the Role it Plays in Project Portfolio Management

One of the most important and essential qualities of leadership needed in today's multigenerational business world is Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI is a "people smart" type of intelligence -- it enables an individual to read a person and provide the right kind of emotional feedback and/or responses to that person's needs. Leaders who demonstrate strong emotional intelligence are able to improve project performance because they focus on the individuals within a team rather than simply or exclusively on goals and procedures (Cacamis & Asmar, 2014). EI allows one to be person-centered, oriented towards responding to emotional cues that the other is consciously or unconsciously displaying in their words, behavior, body language, and communications. Effective use of EI can help organizations to promote a stronger workplace culture, stronger teams, and stronger performance overall (Den, Deanne & Belschak, 2012). In a multigenerational workplace environment wherein conflicts might arise with teams as a result of disparate worldviews, attitudes, ethics, belief systems, expectations, and needs of individual team members, an EI approach can help project managers to overcome the disconnect that some employees may feel at work.

Project portfolio management is a strategy in which the management of methods, technologies and procedures is centralized to ensure efficient use of resources and effective scheduling of activities in support of organizational objectives. Many factors play a part in the successful management of project portfolios -- including the way in which employees relate to their project manager. As economic instabilities on a global scale have pushed back the retiring age of many Baby Boomers, there is a greater mix of younger and older generations now in the workforce than ever before (Stewart, Oliver, Cravens, Oishi, 2017). Added to this is the fact that Generation X and Generation Y employees tend to have a different collective attitude towards life, values, interests and their jobs than the older generation (Ahmad & Ibrahim, 2015). Such differences of opinion and outlook can lead to miscommunication, misinterpretation of feelings, and unstable work environments -- especially if management does not take an active role in promoting a more positive engagement with and among workers (Schyns & Schilling, 2013). As the research indicates, EI is a skill that project portfolio managers can acquire in order to address multigenerational issues within teams and promote a positive, efficient, and high-performance environment in the workplace.

Literature Review

There is substantial and plentiful literature relevant to the issue of multigenerational work environments and the management initiatives that can be used address them. Much of the research indicates that generational gaps are real and manifested in the workplace due to the behaviors, attitudes, work ethics and beliefs of the generational groups (Zopiatis, Krambia-Kapardis & Varnavas, 2012; Schullery, 2013; Krahn & Galambos, 2014; Smith & Nichols, 2015; Moore, Everly & Bauer, 2016; Rosa & Hastings, 2016; Van der Walt, Jonck & Sobayeni, 2016). Each generation has specific outlooks based on their educational and life/work experiences, which inform their skill set. The challenge of the project portfolio manager is to harness the unique skill sets of the various generational groups within each team, bring the team together via communication, and promote a productive discourse that embraces diversity. As the literature shows, the ways in which this challenge can be met are best supported by the utilization of emotional intelligence on the part of management. To the extent that a project manager expresses empathy, sympathy, and emotional support, the team is likely to succeed.

The study by Ahmad & Ibrahim (2015) examines the working environment in Malaysia, in which the three main generational cohorts in the workplace today are Baby Boomers (1945-1964), Generation X (1965-1980) and Generation Y (1980-current). The study focuses on how each differs in terms of outlook and the ways in which managers can respond to these differences to establish a better workplace environment. Baby Boomers are found to be task-oriented and strong believers in staying late to finish a job. Their work ethic tends to be solid and they are commonly seen as loyal to their organization. Generation X workers tend to try to find a balance between work and life, viewing each as equally important. They are flexible and tend to enjoy working alone. Generation Y workers are tech-savvy but tend to have few interpersonal communication skills, both verbally and written. According to Ahmad & Ibrahim (2015), these three cohorts are now making up most working environments, and it is the responsibility of leadership and management to help bridge the gap between these cohorts by adapting to the needs of each group.

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Implementing EI skills is an effective way to adapt to these diverse needs and show a supportive approach to the individuals of the different generational backgrounds.

Bringing the generations together and uniting them via the organizational culture should be the aim of management, and as Butts (2015) shows, managers who take a personal interest in their workers, reach out to them, and address issues by utilizing an intergenerational lens are better situated to produce positive outcomes than those who do not. Exercising emotional intelligence can be an effective tool in assisting management in this aim, especially as Generation Y workers and Baby Boomers have significantly different outlooks on a variety of issues -- such as employment, debt, finances, education, social justice, and more (Cutler, 2015). Bringing these groups together in projects can be difficult, especially if the project portfolio manager fails to recognize the power that EI can have in building relationships (Cacamis & Asmar, 2014).

A study on nursing turnover serves as a sufficient example of the generational problem at root in organizations where disconnect between managers and employees results in frustrated ranks and low retention rates. Meretoja, Numminen, Isoaho & Leino-Kilpi (2015) conducted a cross-sectional survey of interventions in coaching nurses from various generational backgrounds in order to promote competence and quality care. The study's objective was to identify causes of nurse turnover as it related to generational outlooks. Of the more than 2000 questionnaires completed by nurses in a Finnish hospital, findings showed that younger nurses of the Generation Y group were more adept and willing to help older nurses of the Baby Boomer and Generation X groups to learn, use and embrace technology (an especially important tool in modern nursing). The older nurses were also able to impart knowledge and learning based on their years of experience to the younger nurses. Thus, a trade-off was discernible in bringing the generations together, as each had something to offer the other. With regard to the way that managers approach the situation, the study found that they can help to enhance teams and groups by incentivizing workers and fostering a workplace atmosphere that rewards career development. This idea of fostering connectivity is central to the issue of how to address the multigenerational problem and the gap between project managers and workers. By approaching the issue from the perspective of what every employee has to offer to the group, management can add to the team's overall capabilities and apply EI to help bridge the disconnect felt by workers who are unsure of how to approach either the group or their manager with the skills that they bring or can offer.

Bringing generations together to enhance a team's productivity was the focus of the study by Douglas, Howell, Nelson, Pilkington & Salinas (2015), which examined four generational outlooks on team dysfunction. The generations were: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. The dysfunctions they focused on included the absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. The researchers found that multigenerational issues can be addressed by conducting communication workshops for multigenerational teams, providing one-on-one coaching sessions, probing for conflict, and promoting a culture that recognizes results. Hillman's (2014) study supported this finding as well, showing that teams benefit from multigenerational groups when those groups are communicating effectively and utilizing one another's strengths. For example, one of the skills that Generation Y can bring to multigenerational teams is a sharp understanding of and ability to effectively utilize social media -- a skill that can help teams in ways that older generations tend to be unfamiliar with (Shirish, Boughzala, Srivastava, 2016). For a project manager, the point of identifying the skill sets and strong suits of the each unique generational group is to be able to see how the pieces fit and work together to more efficiently plan, schedule, and orient work projects.

Embracing multigenerational teams as an opportunity instead of seeing them as an obstacle to overcome is the cornerstone of an article by Phillips (2016), as well. Phillips (2016) essentially finds that communication, commitment, incentivization, and motivation are keys to helping generations bridge the gaps that divide them. Where EI plays a role in the findings of Phillips (2016) is that with each of the generational groups there….....

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